In the Grotto of Massabieille
While the two other girls crossed the river to gather wood from the other bank, Bernadette, a sickly and asthmatic child, lingered. Eventually, she began removing her stockings, to prepare to wade into the river and join them. As she did so, she heard the sound of a wind, though she saw nothing moving around her. Bending down to remove her other stocking, she looked up again. This time, the wind swayed a small rose bush in the niche of the grotto, and a "gentle light" emanated from the spot. In that light she reported seeing a young girl, dressed in white, smiling at her. (Later representations, including those in The Song of Bernadette, typically misrepresent Bernadette's testimony by depicting the vision as a mature woman.)
Frightened, Bernadette took a rosary from her pocket and tried to make the sign of the cross. Fear got the better of her and she found herself unable to do so. But when the young girl made the sign of the cross, Bernadette did the same, and began to pray. "When I finished my rosary," said Bernadette, "she signed for me to approach, but I did not dare. Then she disappeared, just like that."
This would be the first of several apparitions that Bernadette reported. Like the rest of them, no one with her had heard, seen, or experienced anything.
On the way home, Bernadette told her sister what she had seen, swearing her to secrecy. But upon entering their house Toinette burst out with the news to her mother: "Bernadette saw a white girl in the Grotto at Massabieille!" Her parents, furious at their daughter's lies, beat her, and forbade her to return.
A few days later, still confused about what happened at Massabieille, Bernadette told a local priest in the confessional about her vision. Astonished by her composure and the clarity with which she related the story, he asked her permission to speak of this to the pastor, Abbé Peyramale. According to Fr. René Laurentin's exhaustive biography, Bernadette of Lourdes, all that Peyramale had to say was, "We must wait and see."
Neighbors and friends tried to convince Bernadette's parents to change their minds. One town notable told her father, sensibly, "A lady with a Rosary -- that can't be anything bad." Eventually her parents relented and Bernadette returned, this time with a few other children.
Once more the girl in white appeared. Bernadette asked the vision to "stay if she came from God, to leave if not." Hedging her bets, Bernadette threw holy water in the direction of the apparition, who merely smiled and inclined her head. Bernadette's demeanor during the apparitions -- she was pale and immobile throughout -- so frightened her companions that they raced to a nearby mill for help. Eventually, the girl's mother, in obvious distress, ran to the grotto from town. Embarrassed by Bernadette's actions, she had to be restrained from beating her daughter.
By the time of the third apparition on February 18, many in Lourdes were taking a keen interest in Bernadette's tale. Some pressed her to ask the vision who she was. But when Bernadette came to the vision with a paper and pen, and asked for a name, the vision merely laughed, and spoke for the first time. "Would you have the goodness to come here for fifteen days?"
During the next two visits, the vision appeared to Bernadette, now accompanied by the growing crowd. After the sixth apparition, on February 21, Bernadette was harshly questioned by the dubious local police commissioner, who tried to ascertain if she was merely pulling a childish prank. During the investigation, he tried to get her to say that she was seeing the Virgin Mary, but Bernadette persisted in referring to the vision, in the patois, as Aqueró (that thing). When pressed to elaborate, she described the vision as wearing "a white robe drawn together with a blue sash, a white veil over her head and a yellow rose on each foot."